Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 Review for Xbox 360

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 Review for Xbox 360

A Weird History

On computer platforms, real-time strategy games have been around for ages with a lot of success, so it’s no surprise some developers are trying to bring the genre to consoles. Unfortunately, they’re facing a lot of problems.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 screenshot

One is that most current RTS fans play on computers, so console developers have to make games accessible to beginners; this is hard in a style of game that has become ridiculously complicated over the years. Another is that it’s impossible to give all the functions of computer RTSs their own buttons on a console controller, so developers have to come up with unusual schemes (such as making players hold down some buttons while pushing others, or hold down a button to bring up a list of options). Finally, there’s the main challenge all game-makers cope with: making a title that’s just plain good.

Given the spectacular failures of many console RTS (see, for example, our review of Warhammer: Battle March), two out of three ain’t bad, and that’s the score the console port of Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 earns. The game gets half a point for accessibility to genre newcomers, a full point for making a whole lot of maneuvers very easy to find and execute, and half a point for overall quality.

The moment you slap the disc in, a terrific-looking live-action cutscene featuring some big-name actors begins. The story is that Soviet time-travelers stop Albert Einstein from helping the Allies win World War II, and when they return to the future, the Allies, Soviet Union, and Japan (err…”The Empire of the Rising Sun”) are fighting on an equal playing field.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 screenshot

It’s hard to tell quite what they were going for with this and the other cutscenes (some of which are animated in part, but no less visually impressive). The dialogue is so bad, and the acting so over-performed it can be difficult to believe. Thankfully given the professional acting talent EA hired, one can manage to swallow the intentional antics. Still, it all ends up looking like a mess. It’s as if the actors are not quite sure why they’re standing around, wearing funny outfits, and reciting corny lines.

Also, to this day it’s hard to see Tim Curry (who plays the Russian premier) without thinking back to him wearing lipstick in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, sashaying around and singing, “I’m just a sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania!” It’s odd, to say the least, watching him in a macho military outfit, speaking in a Russian accent. George Takei (Mr. Sulu from Star Trek) also appears, though he manages to seem less out of place. There’s also a collection of attractive women in military roles, one played by Jenny McCarthy, and for some reason they all feel the need to display their cleavage. Go figure.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 screenshot

From there, most console players will head over to the tutorial, which they will discover (to their dismay) comprises six parts and lasts more than an hour. Three tanks, one representing each the Allies, Soviet Union, and Rising Sun, teach you through cheesy dialogue how to do everything the game requires. Often, one tank will make a bad joke at another’s expense, and the offended tank will shoot him. It’s not funny the first time, and it happens, oh, about a thousand times.

During the tutorial, it’s striking both how easy it is to find everything and how complicated the game is. You’ll get a variety of units (fighters, boot camps that create fighters, power plants, etc.), and you can select any unit by clicking it with the A button. Holding down the R button brings up a huge radial stocked with the unit’s various options, and the only shortcut is to hold the right bumper and hit X (this executes the unit’s special ability). The L button brings up radar, helping you jump around the battlefield, and the right joystick zooms in and out (though it doesn’t zoom out nearly as far as it should, forcing you to use the radar whenever you want to see the big picture). There are no “hold this button, then hold that button, then push this other button three times” gymnastics here, and that’s to the game’s eternal credit.

There’s a lot going on, and there are a lot of ways to spend your scarce resources. You mine ore for money, and have to spend that money creating and supplying an army. Pretty much everything you make is vulnerable to attack, and your various units have seemingly numberless abilities. Some can cross water, others can take over certain types of enemy units, some can attack airborne enemies, others are vehicles that change function depending on who’s driving them. You’ll have to learn slightly different systems for each of the three sides.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 screenshot

Also, in this tutorial you get to see the in-game graphics, and they’re not nearly as pretty as you might have expected given the photorealistic cutscene you just experienced. There’s not a whole lot of detail to anything, the colors are dull, and the shadows of trees seem to flicker (perhaps that’s supposed to look like wind).

After trying to remember so many tutorial instructions, you’ll probably look to the campaign with some trepidation. There’s a pleasant surprise in store, however; the game recommends taking on the three stories in the following order: Soviet Union, Allies, Rising Sun, and the onscreen commands provide quite a bit of guidance. During the first mission, for example, you’ll pretty much be told how to win each step. You’ll still be at a loss now and then, but it’s encouraging that the developers didn’t assume you’d be able to just dive in.

The three-tiered difficulty system (easy, medium, hard) will also be a blessing to those who haven’t beaten countless RTS before on PC, with the easy mode letting you find your way around without getting beaten to a pulp. The game’s co-op aspect (you can either play with a friend, or have the computer control the other general) adds a little complexity and sometimes causes minor glitch problems, but by and large it’s not too much of an issue.

The title’s bizarre sense of style really comes into play in the campaign mode as well. For some reason, there’s a lot of heavy-metal music, which was probably included more to appeal to the game’s target young-male audience than to capture the spirit of a sci-fi battle. In addition to taking liberties with World War II history, Red Alert 3 spruces up the technology of the day: you’ll fight with, among other quirky weaponry, bears and mecha. (Regarding the latter, EA has no problem exploiting Japanese stereotypes for a few laughs in the face of political correctness.)

In the end, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 is a game that future console RTS titles should imitate in a lot of ways. Its radial system is perfect for squeezing a computer keyboard into a current-gen console controller, and even if it’s a little too complicated for genre newcomers, it makes a protracted and sincere effort to keep them up to speed. The cutscenes are a bit too bad (even though it’s intentional), and the game’s style is far more over-the-top than it needs to be. But, it has its fun moments, and there’s a sense of accomplishment in learning how to beat a mission.

The live-action cutscenes look great, but the in-game visuals lack definition and feature some odd flickering. 4.9 Control
At last, a console RTS that isn’t miserable to navigate, though we wish you could zoom out more. 3.1 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Sound effects aren’t all that immersive, and the heavy metal music doesn’t seem to fit the scenes. 3.4 Play Value
Despite its flaws, it’s reasonably fun to play. 3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • It’s always better with someone else. Fight your way through three campaigns solo, or join forces with your friends or one of nine, in-game commanders, each with unique personalities and play styles, in missions designed from the ground for co-op play.
  • Star-studded storytelling. Command & Conquer’s trademark live-action videos return in HD, with over 60 minutes of footage featuring the largest cast in the history of the Command & Conquer franchise.
  • Command the seas, conquer the world. Experience gameplay as for the first time in the series, waging war on the water will be every bit as important as dominating by land and air. Gain strategic advantages by controlling resources in the seas and mounting three-pronged attacks from all directions.
  • Ready your man cannons! Armored War Bears and anime-inspired psychic school girls join your favorite Red Alert units like Sonic Dolphins, Tesla Troopers, Attack Dogs, and the ever-popular Tanya.
  • A New threat from the East – The deadly Empire of the Rising Sun is a technological terror, with designs influenced by a mixture of anime, science-fiction, martial arts and robot culture.

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